The Longhorns have a top-notch defensive coordinator and an improving offensive line to build around
The University of Texas and its well-heeled boosters didn’t lure Tom Herman to Austin just to see the Longhorns scrape by. But that is what they got in Herman’s first season: a 7-6 team that piled up more moral victories than actual wins.
Herman’s debut season on the 40 Acres did offer some signs of hope for the near future, especially on the defensive side of the ball. If the Longhorns want to challenge for the Big 12 title this season, let alone a spot in the College Football Playoff, the offense will need to move forward by light years.
Here are three reasons why UT will make the final four this year and three reasons why they won’t.
Three Reasons Why Texas Will Make it to the College Football Playoff in 2018
1. It’s year two
Tom Herman set a new tone with the Longhorns last year, his first season as UT’s head coach. The new has worn off from when he was hired a little more than 18 months ago. Everyone involved with the program should be on the same page now. That should mean less “learning” and more “doing” when UT takes the field this fall.
2. The offensive line should improve
Connor Williams’ leg injury last season left an already shaky offensive line even shakier as the Longhorns rolled into Big 12 play minus their best blocker. UT’s inability to open holes in the running game and protect quarterbacks Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele rendered the offense punchless.
The addition of Rice graduate transfer Calvin Anderson at tackle should further solidify a unit that will benefit from the tutelage of new position coach Herb Hand. In particular, the line should help ignite a ground attack that was missing in action in 2017.
3. Todd Orlando
Orlando is quickly rising up the ranks of the most respected defensive coordinators in the country, which had a big hand in the sizable contract extension he received this offseason.
He walked into a favorable situation last season, inheriting the fruits of Charlie Strong’s discerning eye for defensive talent on the recruiting trail. Even so, Orlando had to overhaul the Longhorns’ scheme on his side of the ball, and he still managed to transform the unit into arguably the top defense in the Big 12.
It’s fair to anticipate further improvement in 2018.
Three Reasons Why Texas Won’t Make it to the College Football Playoff in 2018
1. Lots of big names from the defense left
Possibly Texas’ four best defenders left the program at the end of last season -- defensive tackle Poona Ford, linebacker Malik Jefferson, and defensive backs DeShon Elliott and Holton Hill. The roster as currently constructed seems to lack experienced stars ready to up their games and make up for those losses.
As a whole, the defenders should continue to show progress this season. The bigger question is if Orlando can find new playmakers.
2. There’s a lack of difference-makers at running back
A porous offensive line contributed to UT’s ineffective rushing attack last season, but the Longhorns were hurting for quality runners, too. Ehlinger ended up leading the team in rushing for the entire season with just 381 yards as candidates to take over as the offense’s feature back never really stepped forward.
Stud recruit Keaontay Ingram has a legitimate shot to win the starting nod early in the season. He’ll battle Tre Watson, a graduate transfer from California coming off an ACL tear, for carries. That sounds more promising than relying on returnees Kyle Porter, Daniel Young and Toneil Carter -- but not by much.
3. Sam Ehlinger’s durability
Ehlinger emerged as Texas’ most effective signal-caller a year ago. His skill set fits with Herman’s offense, and teammates appeared to respond best to his presence on the field.
Unforunately, Ehlinger had a hard time staying on the field once he got there. A high usage rate in the ground game left him especially susceptible to shots from defenders.
Just a few years after the Longhorns lost promising QB David Ash to early retirement from concussions, the coaching staff has to be concerned about Ehlinger accumulating too many. Shane Buechele is a fine backup, but Texas needs Ehlinger in the lineup to have any chance of securing a spot in the College Football Playoff.
We’ve heard this song and dance with Texas before. Supposedly Mack Brown had the program back on track after it fell off a cliff. Then Charlie Strong had rejuvenated the Longhorns with tough love and defensive tenacity.
None of it took. Why should we believe the Tom Herman regime won’t suffer the same fate?
The Big 12 now sets up well for UT to take big steps forward with so much turnover at quarterback throughout the conference. That includes the Longhorns’ rivals to the north, where Oklahoma just saw the end of the Baker Mayfield era. A defensive-oriented team like Texas could create serious problems for teams with uncertainty at QB.
The ‘Horns probably don’t have the offensive explosiveness to survive a run through the Big 12 without dropping a couple games. A conference title definitely isn’t out of the question, though.
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 20
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 9-4 (6-3, Big 12)
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 8.5
5 Dimes Over/Under Odds: 8
-- Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.